Who was the leader of the Monkees

Magazine for theology and aesthetics


The film critic Siegfried Kracauer wrote: "The stupid and unreal film fantasies are the daydreams of society in which its actual reality emerges, its otherwise suppressed desires are shaped." Films provide information about the state of society, about its dreams and nightmares.

"Twelve Monkeys" is more of a nightmare. The film shows us a bleak picture of the future. It is set in Philadelphia in the year 2035. In 1996 a virus disaster wiped out almost all of humanity. The earth's surface is contaminated. In the abandoned cities, the animals have taken over. The few survivors have withdrawn into an underground tunnel system. There, in "Eternal Night", as the place is also called, the remnant of humanity resides at the mercy of a fascist government. Rebels are imprisoned for life. The only hope is to send someone back in time with the time machine to find out the origin of the virus disaster and, with the help of this information, create the conditions for a return of humans to the surface of the earth. Convict James Cole, played by Bruce Willis, is selected for this mission. The hero who is supposed to compete against the global nightmare is characterized, among other things, by the fact that he is haunted by a very personal nightmare: from the perspective of a little boy, he sees a man being gunned down in an airport hall. A woman bends down to him. This dream sequence, which is at the beginning and at the end of the film, keeps coming back in between. We learn with Cole to slowly decipher them.

So James Cole is sent back in time. He is supposed to track down an army of the twelve monkeys, a militant animal rights group that is said to have something to do with the virus disaster. But the first time trip goes wrong. Instead of 1996, Cole ends up in 1990. Because of the confused story he tells, he is admitted to a mental institution. There he met the doctor Kathryn Railly and the fellow patient Jeffrey Goines. Shortly afterwards it will be brought back to the year 2034 by its clients.

When he tries again, Cole gets temporarily involved in a battle during the First World War, is wounded and finally reaches his goal: the year 1996. There he tracks down the doctor Kathryn Railly and kidnaps her. Cole realizes that Railly is the woman from his nightmare who bends down to the man who has been shot. He discovers symbols of the "Twelve Monkeys" army and learns that Jeffrey Goines, the fellow psychiatric patient, is the son of a famous virologist and leader of the Monkeys army. Railly is slowly starting to believe Cole.

Cole, on the other hand, gets more and more into an identity crisis and doubts his mission. At some point he just wants to stay in the present. But there is no rest here either, because the police are now looking for him, among other things because he unceremoniously killed two muggers who got in his way. Cole is finished and Railly has to remind him of his mission.

Finally, Cole manages to find Jeffrey Goines. He has reconciled himself with his famous father, apparently in order to be able to use his research for his militant purposes. Cole has a terrible suspicion: Did Goines get the idea from his own stories six years ago when they first met in psychiatry that he wanted to wipe out humanity? Did his rescue mission even contribute to triggering the virus disaster in this way?

Events precipitate. Cole and Railly are on their way to the airport. They just want to leave now, to Key West. On the way they are relieved to find that the great coup of the "Twelve Monkeys" army apparently only consisted of an animal liberation campaign: animals released from the Philadelphia zoo cause traffic chaos.

What does "Twelve Monkeys" say about the future? How does the film assess the question of creative possibilities and hopes?

First of all: a mad scientist is to blame for the disaster. Evil comes from a research laboratory. The Virengau is a kind of eschede of genetic engineering. The film shows the potential dangers of this technology and thus of the scientific and technical civilization as a whole. Science has experimented man back into Mother Earth's bosom. The techniques of natural control have made the surface of the earth uninhabitable. Progress has turned into fascism, dirt and darkness. One possible consequence of the genetic engineering Rhine area is the dirty hole in the ground. Reaching for the stars becomes reaching for the toilet. A chapter on progress criticism. Under the conditions of "Eternal Night", nature can only be staged as an image. I remember the third excerpt from the film. After returning from his second journey through time, Cole wakes up in his sick bed with a landscape painting above him. By the way, we are not that far away from it: Even in our urban living environment, natural beauty is often only present as a cinematic staging.

The figure of James Cole shows how individuals fare in Gilliam's future scenario. The film critic Georg See├člen writes: "Since 'Naked' perhaps, you have not seen a person on the screen as unhoused, so abandoned as this Cole, who cannot even fix himself in time. With his shaved head, always new wounds and Wounds, sweating, drooling and panting, Bruce Willis is the person reduced to the creature who is looking for a way out of a perceptual chaos, for a self-identity. "

Cole is the epitome of homelessness: no place, no time, no golden dreams, no faith, no home, no security. Happiness only exists as a trace element. It flashes between times: in moments of love without a chance, in music, in sucking in the unpolluted air. But overall, Cole's journey through time is a passion story without a resurrection, an apocalypse without a new Jerusalem.

If one asks about biblical traces, most of the references to the prophetic-apocalyptic can be found. Cole is the prophet who no one wants to believe, who is imprisoned and mistreated like Jeremiah, who, like Jonah, wants to escape his mission, who is beaten and beaten like the servant of God in the book of Isaiah. The references to the apocalyptic are also made quite explicitly through verses from the Revelation of John, which a mad street preacher recites.

"Apocalyptein" means "to uncover, to reveal". Prophets and apocalyptists take a look behind the scenes. They reveal what shows up when one thinks ahead about the present. "Twelve Monkeys" also imagines such a scenario of possible consequences of the present: a virus catastrophe. "Twelve Monkeys" also reveals the secrets of the end times. But in contrast to the biblical apocalypse, after the catastrophe no new era dawns. Apocalypse here means: downfall. "Twelve Monkeys" is in line with the current apocalypse boom in the cinema. I remember titles like "Independence Day", "Armaggedon", "Terminator 2", "Waterworld", "Titanic" and "Deep Impact". All of these films are about doom and how it can be averted. The hope potential of the biblical apocalypses is missing.

"Twelve Monkeys" doesn't allow us a happy ending either. "Twelve Monkeys" is, one could also say, the story of psychoanalysis without a cure. James Cole is working on the nightmare that haunts him, and yet he can't change anything. He is a swooning plaything in history. He stumbles after deja vu experiences, only to recognize his involvement in doom more and more clearly and to arrive at the beginning again at the end. The future cannot be changed, the catastrophe cannot be averted. Cole moved in a circle. At the end of the day it's game over. Eternal Night. The longing for heaven and the sea remains unfulfilled, not to mention a new heaven and a new earth.

The keynote is pessimistic. It remains to be seen whether Cole's research will later contribute to the reconquest of the earth's surface. Within the film, however, history presents itself as a circle without redemption. Its course is determined by the completely contingent and senseless insane act of a madman. Cole can look behind the scenes of this absurd world theater, but only to know more and to understand better. Not to change anything. Cole reflects the experience of powerlessness and homelessness. Like us, he is hopelessly at the mercy of complexity and nightmares, a hunted hunter of memories of the future, a drooling nomad who measures virus-infested rooms and apocalyptic times.

His perspective is depressing. But is it unrealistic? Isn't the notorious hope of parable speeches and the apocalypses rather unrealistic? What actually speaks for the optimism of the Bible? Isn't "Twelve Monkeys" a realistic mirror of the experiences of the 20th century, the century of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, of Rwanda and Pristina, of madness and powerlessness?

One could understand "Twelve Monkeys" as a warning: as a visionary intensification of today's fears against the background of the catastrophes of the century and the dangers of the present. It is a vision that does not trust the human design possibilities too much. In this it resembles the apocalyptic tradition of the Bible. Because even in the apocalypses, redemption does not come through human action. But at least it comes. That is the difference to "Twelve Monkeys".